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New Ulm Medical Center

Need more daylight?

Strategies, treatment options for SAD season

Do you find yourself growing depressed every year during the fall and winter when there is less daylight? You could be one of the estimated one in six Americans who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is commonly thought of as a form of depression that occurs at a specific time of the year. Although the exact cause is not known, experts believe that it may be related to how decreasing sunlight affects natural body chemistry. The incidence increases in northern latitudes.

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Kris Guggisberg, manager of Allina Health Home Oxygen & Medical Equipment (HOME) in New Ulm demonstrates one of the phototherapy lights that is available. Phototherapy is one way to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Checklist

Do you experience some or all of these SAD symptoms at about the same time every year?

  • Appetite changes, often with a craving for sweet or starchy foods
  • Weight gain
  • Low energy
  • Low sex drive
  • Fatigue, sleepiness at work or in school
  • Trouble sleeping, or a tendency to oversleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Avoiding social activities

Psychologist Doug Fox, PhD, LP, clinical coordinator for outpatient psychiatry at New Ulm Medical Center, recommends that people with SAD symptoms start by seeing their primary care doctor for a physical. A checkup can rule out things like vitamin D deficiency, hormonal issues and thyroid problems that can mimic depression.

“At New Ulm Medical Center, patients can see a mental health professional and get a physical with a family physician at the same location,” Fox said.

For SAD sufferers, light therapy can be used in prescribed intensities for time periods that range from 30 minutes to two hours daily. For people who have difficulty finding time to sit by a phototherapy light for the required time, Fox suggested checking into “dawn simulation” devices that gradually increase the light level as you wake in the morning.

According to Fox, to manage SAD better or prevent it, you can:

  • Get more active, particularly with outdoor activities such as walking or skiing.
  • Get counseling. Cognitive therapy can help change your thinking patterns from pessimistic to optimistic.
  • Take action. Getting started may be the toughest part, Fox said, because SAD robs motivation.
  • Light therapy: A bright solution to SAD

    Exposure to bright light is an effective way to treat SAD. It is known as phototherapy. This treatment is easier than ever to obtain and use. While it is available to anyone “over the counter,” a doctor’s prescription is needed if the light is going to be billed to insurance. Health insurance probably won’t cover light therapy if you already take an antidepressant. Contact your insurance company to verify coverage.

    Two styles of lights are available at the Allina Health Home Oxygen & Medical Equipment (HOME) showroom, 1601 W. Broadway in New Ulm. They will also be available at HOME’s new Mankato location, opening around the end of November with a full staff of trained professionals.

    HOME’s phototherapy box light on a stand rents for $108 per month. You can buy a smaller, pyramid-shaped desktop light for $227, a 30 percent discount from the regular retail price.

    “Due to an increasing awareness that SAD is a real and treatable condition, we see increasing demand for phototherapy lights,” said Kris Guggisberg, manager of HOME in New Ulm. “It’s easier than ever to have a conversation with your doctor to get a prescription. The lights are now more affordable for purchase if you are not covered by insurance for this condition.”

    Guggisberg said she has seen the effectiveness of SAD lights and CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) therapy, especially for people who haven’t been sleeping well and have a variety health issues.

    For information or to order light therapy lights, visit homestore.allina.com. Or call 507-217-5585 to speak with a HOME representative.